U.S. Needs to Call Violence in Myanmar ‘Genocide’

A yes vote on H.Res. 1091 will send a clear message to the Myanmar government, but Congress should not stop there.

December 12, 2018

Congress is scheduled to vote on H.Res. 1091, a resolution which calls on Myanmar’s government to release two Burmese journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were both arrested and sentenced to prison merely for investigating the Myanmar government’s military and security operations. Those operations constitute what the U.N. has already called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and what lawmakers in the lower house of Canadian parliament classified as a genocide.

The reporting on these actions, particularly in an era defined in part by authoritative crackdowns on investigative journalism, are vital to exposing the violence by Myanmar officials on Rohingya Muslims. Without a full accounting of such actions, the genocide continues to go unchecked. Members of the House should vote in line with their recent bipartisan rhetoric on the value of a free press by demanding the release of these two journalists.

 Journalists Wa Lone (foreground) and Kyaw Soe Oo (background) were targeted and detained for their coverage of Myanmar's violence against the Rohingya. Photo: TIME

The U.S. should also respond to the breadth of information already reported on regarding the situation facing Rohingya Muslims. Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based nonprofit human rights organization, released a 162-page report demonstrating that the Myanmar military engaged in a systematically planned genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslims. The U.N. released a similar report which tracked genocidal campaigns and crimes against humanity onto deliberate governmental policies and hateful rhetoric from state officials. This coordinated mission led to the mass slaughter, rape and village burnings of the Rohingya population, as well as the enforcement of barriers to healthcare, work and education. The stateless Rohingya, denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, face daily discrimination in the country. Even when the Rohingya do flee, they are oftentimes deported back, as has been the practice in India. Matthew F. Smith, a former Human Rights Watch specialist and CEO of Fortify Rights, said that “genocide doesn’t happen spontaneously. Impunity for these crimes will pave the path for more violations and attacks in the future.”

The U.S. government should formally recognize the crisis in Myanmar as a genocide. Doing so would send a clear message on the severity of the situation facing the country’s Muslim minority and open up the Myanmar government to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a special court which investigates genocide and crimes against humanity. Notably, this administration has a demonstrated animus toward the ICC, even going so far as to threaten sanctions against the international court.

The U.S. should not repeat what happened in Rwanda, when congressional hand-wringing and negligence delayed vital resources from arriving to those in need. Now is the time to capitalize on bipartisan support for a resolution which acknowledges the deliberate suppression of a free press as well as the genocidal atrocities already revealed by their brave reporting.



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